HMRC criticised for suggesting Twitter to support customer tax enquiries

HM Revenue and Customs has been roundly criticised by individual MPs for advocating Twitter as a form of customer support for tax enquiries, as figures reveal worsening customer service over the phone.

Stephen Hardwick, HMRC’s director of communications has said that Twitter can provide a “supplement” service to calling helplines, stressing that customers should not tweet any personal data.

Mr Hardwick spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, stating, “We are serious about the use of Twitter as a supplement to going online and using the telephone… it’s a very useful social media device to get guidance, to help point people to where they can get information online.

It’s a pilot, it is starting small, but the whole point of social media is you answer a question once and hundreds or thousands of people can see the answer, rather than answering the phone to all of those people asking the same question.”

However, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, MP Margaret Hodge said that the idea of HMRC using Twitter for customer tax enquiries was “laughable”.

She continued, “No customer based service should tolerate such a poor service and both ministers and senior management should simply sort this out.”

A second MP Mark Garnier said that he could not imagine a tax query that could be sufficiently expressed or answered within a 140 character limit. In addition, shadow Treasury Minister Shabana Mahmood said any suggestion of HMRC encouraging the public to tweet about their tax affairs “beggars belief”.

Furthermore, Mr Hardwick has apologised after figures revealed that for September 2014 average waiting times doubled, compared to the same time the previous year, to over 10 minutes for customers using HMRC phone services.

The reports of worsening of customer service at HMRC comes as the deadline for online self-assessment tax returns approaches at the end of the month, with the department’s customer service expecting further strain at a time of peak demand.

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